Please make a note to come to the AGM in Mycenae House on Friday 3 September at 2pm.  At that meeting all members will have the opportunity to raise ideas and discuss issues, such as those described below, but it will be for the committee to take forward those ideas and resolve those issues.  The most important part of the AGM will be the election of a new committee or new members to the committee.  My last two emails announcing the AGM emphasised the need for those who use and enjoy the gardens to step up to help preserve and improve them.  This email sets out to show that there are real issues to be addressed and real opportunities for improvement.   
Committee members will be elected at the AGM.  They can be proposed on the day, but must be members of the group, willing to serve and supported by two other members.  There is a nomination form hereIf you are willing to serve on the committee, it would be helpful if you could arrange your supporters and let me know in advance by email.  If you are not willing to serve, then please find and put forward others who would be willing and able to be elected, and who can be counted on to deal with the sort of issues set out below.  

The balance between users
This was perhaps the main task of the group at its inception, when different groups were tussling over the use of the gardens.  At that time, there were quite heated disputes between dog-walkers and others.  More recently, people have complained of feeling unwelcome while the school ‘takes over’ the gardens during term time.  The group has shown that it can manage these problems, and reduce the heat, if it fully represents all parties.

For some time, we have been concerned about the gradual erosion of the slopes towards the north end of the main gardens.  The process seems to have accelerated over the last 18 months, perhaps as a result of the loss of undergrowth.  Unless the erosion is stopped, some trees will eventually fall.  What, if anything, can be done about it?  Some years ago, and in response to a suggestion that the slopes be reinforced, a council officer suggested that nothing should be done: ‘Things change: let nature take its course’.   On the other (conservationist) wing, some of our members have suggested fencing off the slopes entirely.  That of course would reduce the attraction to many visitors and the school.   Again, the group needs to find some solution, with balance.

The lawn
The lawn has been a perennial source of concern, although the amount of rain this year has meant that it is in a better state than is usual for summer.  The group works with the school to avoid over-use, but more work is needed in relation to after-school activities.

Re-fencing the shrub beds
The group has spent much money and time in reforming and re-planting various shrub beds.  They were initially protected by ’rope-and-post’ barriers.  These were regularly cut, pulled out and/or ignored.  The school children did good work replacing them occasionally, and they were a regular ‘to do’ item on the group’s planting days,  but two years ago we tried an alternative solution: our ‘willow wizard’ devoted many hours to building attractive willow barriers around some of the beds, with the intention of finishing them in 2020.  Covid interrupted that work, and brought many more people into the gardens.  As a result, the existing barriers were stripped, the beds trampled and the work of many was lost.  The smaller plants have already gone. The rest of the shrub beds will shrink to isolated brush unless protected.  The total length of fencing that would be required to protect them once more is over 100 meters.  The group will need to build a consensus as to the best means of fencing, find the money and put in the work.

Labelling the trees
The gardens contain an unusually diverse selection of trees, some probably dating back some 250 years to the gardens of John Julius Angerstein.  In past years, the ‘Tree-sure hunt’ has been a popular event for children at the annual parksFest event, but it would be good to help all users of the gardens to appreciate the variety all year round.  The 2019 newsletter referred to an unsuccessful attempt to do this by offering a custom layer in Google maps. Labelling the trees would be a more obvious low-tech solution, but it has to be done with care to avoid damaging the trees, and in such a way as to avoid providing another target for vandalism. 

A history board
The history of ‘Woodlands’ (the building that now houses the school) and the gardens is outlined on the website and n the leaflet produced by the group, but it is still not widely known.  A knowledge of that history may help visitors to appreciate and respect the house and the gardens.  A recent meeting of the Westcombe Society ended with a talk on John Julius Angerstein, who built the house and established the gardens.  At that meeting, it was suggested that we should put up a history board similar to the ones around Blackheath.  The local historian who gave the talk has offered help.   This proposal is at a very early stage and will need discussion with the council, the school, Mycenae House and the Westcombe Society. 
Routine work
Routine work includes watering new planting (less of a problem this year), pruning shrubs (most obviously, at the moment, the beech hedge in front of the school), weeding the established beds and repairing the dead-hedging that protects the wildlife area.   In previous years we have also planted large numbers of bulbs, protecting them with temporary willow barriers, but even with that protection their survival rate has been so poor that we have no plans to do so this year.

So there is work to be done, but much to be achieved.  Please get involved, and get others involved.

See you (I hope) next Friday,

Mark Barnes
Chair and secretary of the FoMG

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